THE cultural and social elements of livestock farming must not be overlooked as the UK develops its future farm support schemes through the Agriculture Bill.

This could be particularly concerning for upland areas in the North West as Defra structures its ELMs programme towards the delivery of public goods, says Eddie Eastham, The definition of public goods could be arbitrary , but for Defra the main thrust is towards things like nature recovery, carbon storage and the general environment.

Within ELMs there will also be grants to aid farm productivity, these are to be further defined but will probably cover health and welfare in livestock, soil health, etc.

Better use of technology and data will increasingly play a part in streamlining business efforts, gaining efficiencies, lowering the cost of production and reducing carbon emissions. However , as BPS payments are phased out, farmers will be more exposed to the market and with the UK unlikely to move away from a cheap food policy this could present a problem.

Farmers and landowners will have to embrace the spirit of ELMs and decide which options are best for their circumstances, though inevitably there will be more restructuring within the industry. It is against this background that concerns arise for traditional upland farming systems where gains in efficiency and productivity are more difficult to achieve. Livestock rearing and food production has always been a core activity in these areas and the National Sheep Association believes that with the right policies in place this will continue , alongside the delivery of public goods.

There is a distinct lack of detail around how future schemes will be designed for these areas, but a more holistic approach is needed, one that considers not only environmental capital but also sustained livestock activity. Further, there is a need for communities to know they have an assured future and for individuals to be valued by society.

With relation to Commons and other unfenced areas , more inspirational thinking is required as too often in the past, perceived environmental gains have had unintended consequences . A more balanced approach is required, one that delivers not only for the environment but also high quality food production and a continuation of cultural activities.

There are many customs and practices related to hill sheep farming that are unique to the UK , and worth preserving, not only for those involved, but as part of our national heritage. Here in the North West we have many iconic landscapes, valued by people from around the world. These landscapes , with a mosaic of features have been created over many centuries of land management which includes grazing animals .